Drifting off to sleep sometimes does interesting things to one’s mind. For me, as I drift into slumber, I start to remember. I remember the everyday, mundane things. I remember things I either need to do, or forgot to do. I remember funny things that happened, or problems to be solved, or things that bother me. But every once in a while I remember something from so long ago, childhood usually, and that memory almost makes me bolt completely upright in bed. But last night? Last night the memory was so vivid, so real, it paralyzed me. I was physically in my bed, that much was certain. But had I believed in astral projection I would swear I had projected myself back in just that fashion.
In this case, my adult body was safely in bed in 2013, but my mind had projected itself back to 1982 for some odd reason. Here, I’m barely taller than the handle on the hospital door as I turn it to enter a dark hospital room. Not dark because it’s night, but dark because the curtains are drawn. The room is fairly nondescript, really nothing special. White walls, chair in the corner, and a bed to my left. I don’t remember the car ride to the hospital, or even walking into Scottsdale Memorial Hospital that day, or anything else, really. But I remember walking into that room, and my eyes had focused like lasers on my dad, who occupied that bed to my left. He was sitting upright, and when he saw me he didn’t smile. As a matter of fact, he looked horrified.
It had never occurred to me he wouldn’t have wanted to see me. But here he was, looking past me and at my mother behind me, mouthing the word “NO!”
If he could have yelled it he would have, but he didn’t have a voice. I can still see his face, loudly whispering that word to my mother. “No”. That unfamiliar word, at least from my dad. “No”.
It was the first time I could recall that he hadn’t smiled at me when when he saw me, but I hadn’t seen him in the several months he had been sick and in the hospital, in that same bed. The bed that had some magical power to make my dad tell me “NO.” I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t glad to see me. Why didn’t he smile? Where was his voice?
I ignored his “NO,” and raced to his bed, where I jumped up onto him and wrapped my 9 year-old arms around him anyway, and held on as tightly as I could. I held on as if my life depended on it. I held on as if the world would fall apart if I let go. He held on the same way.
Still paralyzed in my 2013 bed, I finally understood why he reacted with shock when I walked into the room. My mother must not have told him I was coming that day, because he would have forbid it, obviously. I was his daughter, his only child, and he didn’t want me to see him that way. To me he was always invincible, always there. He had always been strong. He was a runner, and runners were supposed to be healthy. Runners weren’t supposed to get sick. Runners were a different breed completely, right? They didn’t get sick. But here he was, lying in a hospital bed, the color of the sheets he was lying on. The color of the walls. The color of the lifeless existence he has succumbed to. I didn’t see a runner in that bed. Hell, I barely saw my dad. This was a frail, skeletal man. A man whose 39 year-old body was overtaken by cancer.
But why was I thinking about this now? This memory, suppressed for so long, safely tucked away in the darkest recesses of my mind. The area reserved for things best left forgotten. But here was this memory, and I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t tuck it back in, or press it back into that corner of my mind where it belonged. It was here, or I was there, I couldn’t really draw that distinction anymore, it was so blurred. It was one in the same. And as an insult to my psyche, other memories came rushing at me like a meteor shower in my mind, flying at me at the speed of light. I remembered the way he used to sit me on his knee and sing “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney. How he used to take me for rides in his Austin Healy Bug-eyed Sprite. How he didn’t yell at me when I threw up an entire can of Spaghetti-Os all over his back from the back seat of our Monte Carlo as he drove me to gymnastics when I was six (he really wasn’t happy about that though, I’m sure). Memories, many times over, of him taking off for his run. Running down the street, the image fading each and every time as he ran out of sight, strong and fast. Every day, strong and fast.
Then, the hospital room again. Always back to the hospital room. This man, who was still so strong inside, only thinking of how his little girl would see him. It must have killed him to not be able to see me. For months. Truthfully, I’m not sure I would be that strong, even in that state. But despite his physical weakness, his will was intact. He wanted to be the strong man-the dad. My hero, as he had always been.
And I think how sad I am now because as I grow older I look less and less like him. But the saving grace is that with every passing year, my teenage son looks more and more like him. He was taking over what had once been left to me and only me, the responsibility of keeping him alive somehow, at least physically.
But in all fairness, it really wasn’t necessary. My son looks quite a bit like him, and acts like him, too. But the legacy he left me inside, well, it can’t be touched. Physical characteristics aside, his love of running, his aviation passion, it’s all there. His love of life? Here. His dry, quick wit? It lives in my son, with a vengeance.
So, dad, don’t worry. I don’t really remember your cancer-ravaged, pale shadow-of-a-man-body. I only remember you.